August 11, 2012
DANIEL WEBSTER II
JFK's book highlights the stories of eight United States Senators who risked their political careers to pursue justice.
In the introduction to the Memorial Edition, Robert Kennedy writes:
"Courage is the virtue that President Kennedy most admired. That is why this book so fitted his personality, his beliefs."
JFK Library Image
The title of Chapter III is Daniel Webster.
JFK tells us that the "exhausted & feeble" John C. Calhoun* of South Carolina entered the Senate chamber with assistance to his seat after Daniel Webster had begun speaking.
When Webster said that he regretted illness prevented Senator Calhoun from being present, the former Vice President of the United States rose & in a clear voice said:
'The Senator from South Carolina is in his seat."**
*John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) won election to Congress as a War Hawk in 1810. He would go on to serve as Secretary of War, Secretary of State, Vice-President of the United States & Senator.
**This was to be Calhoun's final trip to the Senate chamber.
John C. Calhoun
Painting by George P.A Heely (1851)
Charleston City Hall
Photo by Bill Hathorn (2012)
Webster spoke for over 3 hours, rarely referring to notes. He made his case for UNION saying the Senate's 'main concern' was to preserve the nation, neither to promote slavery nor to abolish it.
"Sir, your eyes & mine are never destined to see that miracle. The dismemberment of this vast country without convulsion! Who is so foolish...as to expect to see any such thing?
Let us enjoy the fresh air of liberty & union.....Let us make our generation one of the.....brightest links in that golden chain which is destined."
JFK says there was no applause but "buzzing & astonished whispering" instead.
Senator Webster's speech was repudiated in the North while being declared "noble...., generous & conciliatory" by the CHARLESTON MERCURY.
Historians of the late 19th Century, however, condemned the "7th of March speech" but JFK goes on to say that modern historians such as Allan Nevins, Henry Steele Commager & Gerald Johnson consider it as 'the highest statesmanship.'
Abolitionists such as Rev. Theodore Parker attacked Webster. He said:
"No living man has done so much to debauch the conscience of the nation..."
and went on to compare the Senator to Benedict Arnold.
Webster's dream of seeking the Presidency was shattered in the aftermath of his 1850 speech. He died "disappointed & discouraged" in 1852.
JFK concludes this chapter with these words by Senator Webster:
"I shall stand by the Union....with absolute disregard of personal consequences. No man can suffer too much, & no man can fall too soon, if he suffer or fall in defense of the liberties & Constitution of his country."
Daniel Webster Memorial
Photo by John White (2003)